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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

JESUS' DISCOURSE WITH NICODEMUS

John 3:1-6 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto Him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a Teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with Him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Also see John 3:7-13)

Nicodemus is mentioned in the New Testament only in the Gospel of John. Here,in the lesson text, he recognizes Jesus as a Teacher come from God, in John 7:51, when he protests against Jesus being condemned by the chief priests and Pharisees without hearing Him speak, and in John 19:38, where he assists Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus. It seems in each instance that Nicodemus grew more in the knowledge of Jesus, and his faith increased in his belief that He was the Messiah and the Son of God. Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisees. This was a Jewish sect that set themselves apart from other Jews by professing to be more religiously strict than other sects. They demonstrated their religiosity by intentionally praying and the giving of alms to be seen of others. They purposefully wore broad religious symbols known as phylacteries, and, although garment borders (fringes) were required for all Jewish men (See Num. 15:38-40; Deut. 22:12), they intentionally enlarged the borders of their garments to be seen as a more holy sect of Jews. They sought out the most noticed places in rooms at feasts and the chief seats in synagogues. In general, Pharisees were a hypocritical, holier-than-thou class of Jews.

Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews, that is, he was a member of the great counsel of the Jews - the Sanhedrin, which is presided over by the high priest, and consists of seventy-one selected, male members of the Jewish nation. Although the Jewish nation was under Roman rule at this time, the Sanhedrin had limited authority over certain civil and religious matters. Since they represented such a populous nation, they had great political influence with the local and regional Roman governors. Although Nicodemus doesn't seem to hold to the complete strictness of the Pharisees, or to the haughty authority that seemed to be prevalent within the Sanhedrin, yet he was a member of that body.

Nicodemus, having heard of Jesus' teachings and miracles, evidently desired to learn more about this virtually unknown Man of Galilee. For fear of this being known to other Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin that despised Jesus and His teachings and actions, Nicodemus privately, under the cover of darkness, came to Jesus by night. By respectfully referring to Him Rabbi, or great teacher, he recognized Jesus as a teacher come from God - as a teacher and messenger chosen andcommissioned by God to instruct others in Hisreligious truths. Nicodemus accepted Jesus as one favored by God because he firmly believed that no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with Him.

Because of his sincerely, Jesus answered Nicodemus by explaining God's basic religious requirement of all men and women that seek eternal salvation of their souls: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. As it is used here, referring to all people in general, "man" refers to all mankind, including both men and women. A rebirth is essential in God's plan of salvation - to begin life anew. All mankind experience natural birth, but entering the kingdom of God requires a new birth by casting off the old unforgivable, sin-laden life, and putting on a fresh, new body that, although is susceptible to sin and worldliness, yet can be cleansed by God's forgiving power by prayer through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Probably knowing that Nicodemus was having difficulty understanding this new spiritual doctrine of rebirth, He gave him this more descriptive explanation: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. To be born again is to be born of water and of the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost we have the full explanation that is indicated here. Spiritual birth by water assuredly refers to the water baptism, or emersion, that was, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preached by the apostles on the Jewish holy day following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back into Heaven by Jesus, the Son of God. The birth of the Spirit refers to the repentant change of life - the turning away from the evil propensities of life replacing it with a reverent acceptance of God that leads to a holy life of prayer, forgiveness, meekness, purity, charity, etc. This is the newborn character that is wrought by the Holy Spirit of God that plies on each heart that receives Jesus Christ as their Savior. It is impossible to enter into the kingdom of God without these spiritual elements of rebirth.

Because of these truths, Jesus admonishes Nicodemus, who, by inference, continues to have some doubt about this new doctrine, to marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again (Vs. 7). It is a spiritual rebirth. God's kingdom was never intended to be earthly, as the Jews expected, but spiritual. Therefore, one must be spiritually born again in order to enter into the spiritual kingdom of God. This fact Jesus further explains by saying that, the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth (Vs. 8). The wind is mysterious. It goes uncontrollably where nature dictates. It cannot be seen, but we know it exists. With our ears, we hear the sound that result from its contact with trees, valleys, mountains, etc. And with our eyes, we see the visible effects it has on fields of grain, the sand of deserts, and leaves falling from trees. With our nose, we smell the good aroma brought to us by a waft of wind from a freshly baked pie that is placed on a window sill to cool, but also the winds bring us the ill smells that emanate from a pig farm. Even with our sense of touch we can feel the warm or the cool wind that blows against our skin during the changing seasons. Just as the wind cannot be seen, so the eyes of mankind cannot see the Holy Spirit of God, and so is every one that is born of the Spirit (Vs.8). Paul explains this truth in his letter to the Christians of Rome. He wrote, The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). In other words, we see how favorably the Holy Spirit acts in our lives when we experience the rebirth that our Savior revealed to Nicodemus in this discourse. The changes in our lives are noticeable, when, through obedience to the will of God, we repent from the ways of the world and begin a new life that is driven by love for God and for our neighbor. Just as we observe the results of the wind, so we see the results the Holy Spirit brings into our lives, and the lives of others, by revealing the truths found in the word of God.

Nicodemus continued to question Jesus by asking, How can these things be (Vs. 9)? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (Vs. 10)? Jesus explained the new birth that is necessary in order to be reconciled to God with a plain and simple illustration. He confirmed His teaching as coming from the Heavenly Father with miracles that could not possibly be accomplished by any human being. And still Nicodemus, as a master of Israel - that is, a Jewish leader that professed to know and understand the Law of Moses, yet could not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, and accept His teaching as that of His Heavenly Father. Jesus continues His discourse of enlightenment for Nicodemus by referring to Himself and His disciples that are, at this time, following Him. He says that we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness (Vs. 11). Jesus, and His disciples, spoke only of the doctrine of God, which they knew; they did not teach a religion that was mystical, unknown, and difficult to understand and accept. They taught only that which prophets of God, under the Jewish covenant, had revealed. Although Nicodemus thought he was staunchly upholding the Old Testament authority of God, he was actually defending the erring belief that the Messiah was coming to establish a kingdom on earth.

The illustration Jesus made to describe the new birth that was required in order to enter God's kingdom, was with the use of earthly things. Even the use of these earthly metaphors, Nicodemus could not comprehend the kingdom that was to be established. With that being so, Jesus questioned him by saying, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things (Vs. 12)? Since no man has ascended up to heaven, and returned to earth, then heaven cannot be explained to others by any earthly being. Only He that came down from heaven, that is, Christ Jesus, even the Son of man, can explain it, because only He has seen it. Even at this time in His ministry, and because of His dual nature, the physical body of Jesus is here on earth, while the spiritual being of the Savior, the Son of God is in heaven (See Vs. 13). But Nicodemus, not having complete understanding of what the future was to reveal, could not understand and accept the nature of God's kingdom and Jesus Christ as the promised Savior of the world.